Keeping two boisterous boys (see Raising Boisterous Boys ) busy during the long holidays is not always easy, especially when they keep getting ill and we are stuck at home. This year I’ve got my organisation on and have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are some of our favourite activities so far, fully road tested by both Bears.
Build a Mini Garden (AKA Fairy Garden, but don’t tell the boys)
This gets my full marks in terms of length of time it kept them busy and the fact that it is continuing to give entertainment days later.
You need a bit of forward planning to build a mini garden. Firstly decide what you want to plant in – I went for washing up bowls as they were 99p and seemed the perfect shape and size. I also found items we might need to fill the gardens with such as some mini houses (actually miniature alcohol bottles from a flight Grizzly went on a few years ago!) and small creatures/ people/ furniture. I got most things from a charity shop trawl and from rummaging amongst the little toys the boys have acquired over the years.
I took the boys with me to choose their plants. We went for succulents – some that are flat ground cover which make good grass and others that look like mini exotic trees. Big Bear got a Sage plant too which makes a good tree.
I set everything up outside for them and apart from helping them with planting, let them have free reign. Here is what they created:
Little Bear’s is like the Amazon Jungle and Big Bear’s is very neat and orderly. I was really impressed with their creativity and how much they enjoyed it.
We planted some cress too so they have been able to check their garden each day and watch it grow and change. Little Bear loves giving his a squirt with the water spray. Cress is super easy to plant and grows quickly so they have been able to observe changes already.
A really lovely activity, everyone needs a mini garden in their life I reckon!
This is up there as one of Little Bear’s favourite activities of all time. All you need is a bowl (we used the washing up bowls before we planted gardens in them), about an inch of water and some marbling inks. I got ours from Baker Ross but I think you would find them in any craft shop. The inks aren’t cheap (about £5.99 I think) but we’ve already had 2 big marbling sessions and we’ve got plenty left.
You just put a couple of drops of ink into the water and either let it disperse by itself or blow it or stir it to mix the colours. The boys loved this (we used wooden kebab sticks for mixing) and although they were probably a bit over liberal with the ink it did keep them entertained for ages. When you are happy with the mix in your bowl, float a piece of paper or card on the surface of the water. When you lift it out after a couple of seconds, it will be covered in amazing patterns like this:
In the end we had to stop because the whole table was covered and we had run out of drying space. The boys were not bored and would have merrily carried on. We would highly recommend this for all ages.
*Just be careful to cover surfaces and clothes as the inks do stain.
Decoupatch or Decoupage
This is Big Bear’s favourite activity. Little Bear doesn’t like this one – he seems to be hypersensitive to the feeling of glue on his hands.
Decoupage is basically just gluing paper so you can do it on any surface. So far we have stuck to the shaped cardboard models you can get from craft shops or Rymans. You can buy decopatch paper and glue from those shops too. We have tended to cut our paper up into squares before we start but I think you could use any shape or rip the paper as you went depending on the look you wanted. You just paint glue onto the surface you want to cover, place the paper on and glue over the top. You can overlap pieces so that the whole thing ends up covered. It is fairly quick to cover a small object and there is something very satisfying about it as long as you don’t mind sticky fingers. It doesn’t really matter how neat or messy you are it still ends up looking good. Here are our latest offerings:
Tissue Paper Transfer Art
I like this activity because it involves water and Little Bear especially loves getting stuff wet. However, I was a bit unimpressed with the results and definitely think this is more for people who like a pastel or subtle look.
You need a water spray, matt paper (shiny paper won’t absorb the colour in the way you need it to) and a range of colours of tissue paper. Cut the tissue paper into whatever shapes you want. We used squares for ease but I have seen it done with strips or hexagons on Pinterest (I don’t know about anyone else but I haven’t got the time or energy to cut out hundreds of hexagons!).
Your child can cover the paper in the tissue shapes by squirting it/them to make them stick. You need to let the whole thing dry then you can peel off the tissue paper. Underneath you should have an abstract picture made from the transferred colour of the tissue paper. We were a bit underwhelmed when we peeled ours back. This is how they looked:
As you can see the greens and blues seemed to work best. Black didn’t appear to work much at all. As I said I think this is great if you like pastel shades and the task is quite fun and will fill 20 minutes or so.
We prefer a more vibrant look though and liked how our pictures looked before we peeled the tissue paper off. That led us to another idea: why not create a hybrid of this activity and decoupage? You get your very own stained glass window:
Mostly free local activities
I have been paying much more attention this year to what is happening locally during the holidays and have discovered that the library, local museums, our local craft shop and our country park all offer a variety of sessions during the holidays. Many are free or have a nominal fee. We haven’t tried any of the craft sessions as we like to get crafty at home but they look good and would be a good compromise if you don’t fancy a messy house.
Instead we booked on to pond-dipping which I thought would be a bit different for the boys. We passed a lovely hour and half dipping our nets and swirling about in the water. The most exciting thing we found was a large newt. We also found baby newts who still had their gills and lots of water boatmen – it turns out they swim one way up and walk the opposite way up when on land. Who knew?
The Ranger was really laid back and full of information, so much so that we’ve booked onto bug-hunting for later in the holidays. It’s brilliant that you can do it all for free.
Wet Wipe Tie Dye
Anyone else who hit their teenage years during the 90’s might also remember staining their parent’s kitchen sink trying to perfect the ultimate tie-dye on their t-shirt. As much as I loved it at the time I am a bit too precious about my lovely grey sink to let the children loose with dye in it now. I was excited then when I discovered on Pinterest that you can tie dye with a lowly wet wipe. Honestly. You really can and it actually works:
All you do is pinch your wet-wipe in the centre and squash it into a sausage shape. Twist your sausage a few times then secure it in two or three places with elastic bands. Using any chubby felt pens, colour each section a different colour. Remove the bands and voila.
I have to admit I haven’t tried this with Little Bear but Big Bear was suitably impressed with it.
When Big Bear was smaller he used to love doing ‘experiments’ which involved various containers, water, food-colouring, sugar and salt and him just mixing and pouring things. That won’t quite cut it now so we have branched out into those science sets you can buy.
We had a lot of fun one holiday doing a volcano one. This time we have had a go at growing our own crystals (I think I got the set from The Works). I’m not going to include a photo as I’m pretty sure the results are pitiful, however, I honestly don’t think that the results always need to be amazing for the children to enjoy it. My two get very excited as soon as they don their goggles (wearing the gear is part of the fun) and take their part in measuring or adding or stirring very seriously.
Chemistry was never my strong point but something has definitely happened in our dishes. The boys are enjoying looking into them each day and noticing any changes so I’ll take that as a success. Plus I’m sure the massive crystals on the front of the box were falsely advertised. Ahem.
I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Hama beads before but they are still up there as a favourite with both Bears. Big Bears works with the standard sized ones and Little Bear with the maxi ones. Big Bear has this book:
We decided to get adventurous and try to build something 3D this time. I think perhaps we aimed a bit high and maybe this would be better for someone a little older (Big Bear is 8 now) or with a better concentration span as I ended up building 3 of the sides. However, we did manage it in the end and Big Bear was very pleased with our creation:
The book has lots of easier ideas like keyrings and coasters too so we might try something simpler next time.
Little Bear has completed lots of the kits that are available in the maxi size (dog, car, dinosaur, owl) and has moved on to freestyling and making pieces such as these:
It always amazes me that the boys will sit still long enough but they do and they really enjoy it. Hama beads are great for fine motor control and Little Bear has been experimenting with patterns too: a fun activity that ticks lots of other boxes.
That is our top 8 so far. Feel free to comment or suggest other things, there are still a lot of days to fill!